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Cookie bakers fire up ovens for General Conference

Jean King, a member of First United Methodist Church in Burleson, Texas, boxes up homemade cookies for delegates and guests attending the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth. UMNS photos by John Lovelace.

By John A. Lovelace*
April 14, 2008 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)

Not to be disrespectful, but The Book of Discipline and The United Methodist Hymnal aren’t the only things up for grabs when United Methodists congregate this April in Fort Worth for the church's top legislative meeting.

An elaborate assortment of cookies––about 100,000 of them in an array of varieties and sizes––will be there for the snacking as 1,000 delegates converge on the Fort Worth Convention Center.

Cookies are a tradition at the United Methodist General Conference, though organizers aren't exactly sure when and where the tradition began. Each four years when the worldwide meeting is held, the host conference provides delegates with a little caloric sustenance during breaks from long hours of debates and decisions.

Jeannette Segerstrom spoons out
coconut cookie dough.

For this year's meeting that begins April 23 and ends May 2, the cookies are being baked by women of the host Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference.

Only in Texas would the top cookie coordinator be known as the "lead cookie wrangler." (A wrangler, according to the dictionary, is a "cowboy who herds livestock, especially saddle horses.")

At 4 feet, 11 inches and 102 pounds, Marzie Bartee might not appear to be the wrangler sort. However, according to the conference-wide organizational chart started last August, she is definitely the top hand herding these cookies to the last corral.

Here’s how she arrived at the goal of 100,000 cookies:

"OK, there’s 1,000 delegates," she calculates. "They take two breaks a day. We’re packaging the cookies three each in a Ziploc bag. Each delegate takes a bag each break; that’s six cookies per delegate per day, or 6,000 cookies per day. Ten days for 1,000 delegates; that’s 60,000 cookies. And we know some people are going to take extras. And there’s guests. So we figured we might just as well make it 100,000."

Here comes the wrangling part.

"OK, we need 100,000 cookies for 10 days. That’s 8,333 dozen. There are seven districts in the Central Texas Conference. That’s nearly 1,200 dozen cookies per district."

Cookie quotas

Sue Eubanks is the deputy cookie wrangler for
the host conference's
Mid-Cities district.

Bartee relied on 12 years of leadership experience in Central Texas United Methodist Women to ask each district UMW president to designate a district cookie wrangler. Letters went out to each local church unit and also to United Methodist churches without one, including those on multi-point charges or with part-time pastors.

By phone and e-mail, she stayed in close touch with the seven district wranglers. Those seven assigned quotas, distributed donated pizza boxes to hold six dozens each (24 Ziploc bags of three cookies each), designated collection points and secured delivery drivers. Some of the drivers will travel 100 miles each way across the spacious Central Texas Conference in order for the cookies to arrive at the right time and place on three delivery dates: April 22, April 26 and April 29.

Not unlike a cattle roundup, once the cookies are unloaded at Dock 5 of the convention center, the wranglers' work is done. The host committee takes over from there.

Women in each local church chose what variety of cookies to bake. Bartee reckons that chocolate chip and sugar cookies will be most popular. Iced cookies are not allowed. About one-fourth will be sugar-free and will be so labeled, as will those containing nuts, coconut or peanut butter that might create dietary problems.

Made from scratch or from prepackaged dough? Local choice. Baked in home or church ovens? Local choice. All funding is local. Contributions welcome.

Feeding the masses

Myrtis Parker, conference president of United Methodist Women, first got wind of the cookie challenge as an alternate delegate to the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh.

"Women from other conferences would say, 'Oh, you know, General Conference is going to be in your conference. … And you’ll probably have to do the cookies,'" she recalls.

Myrtis Parker (left) and Marzie Bartee are the top cookie wranglers for the Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference.

Why United Methodist Women? "When you think about cookies, you think women," she says. "… You go to your organized group of women to get something done."

Based on information from Pittsburgh organizers, she knew she had to find a passionate leader to oversee the roundup. "I knew a lady who is good at organizing food. She’s in UMW and enjoys doing this," she recalls.

Parker was thinking of Bartee, who feeds more than 100 people each week as kitchen coordinator in her own First United Methodist Church of Burleson. Parker asked, Bartee agreed, and the rest is cookie history in the making.

Parker, who is also a delegate to this year's General Conference, sees a larger benefit in the great General Conference cookie roundup. "One can view cookies as healthy, depending on the ingredients," she says.

"For me this provides an opportunity for communion … in that we join each other in breaking bread and drinking beverages as a community of God’s people. We have the opportunity for fellowship, and I think this is good for the soul."

*Lovelace has covered eight United Methodist General Conferences for various publications, including NEWSCOPE and United Methodist Reporter. He retired as editor of The Reporter in 1997. Mike Hickcox, manager of Radio Ministry Initiatives for United Methodist Communications, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio: Myrtis Parker, Texas Conference UMW president

"I think this is good for the soul."

"Our goal is 1,200 dozen."

"If you were late …"

Related Article

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General Conference 2008

Central Texas Annual Conference

United Methodist Women

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